This article was written for Annabel & Grace, which is now part of Rest Less.
After an extremely uncomfortable and very rough crossing from Barcelona to Genoa, we were thankful to roll off the ferry onto terra firma in Italy. In fact we were more than pleased to leave the over excited party of Spanish school kids who had spent most of the night bonking or running up and down the corridors. My heart went out to their teacher – actually I think she had given up.
Genoa is it is built on very steep hills, practically cliffs. The Genoese have repelled assailants for centuries and they have always been superb traders amassing vast wealth, some of which they spent on building themselves the blingiest of mini palaces. The architecture is wonderfully theatrical .
We tried to drive around to get the feel of the place but one way systems and Italian signs foiled us. After a couple of hours of not finding anywhere to park, my companion was dying to get to a loo so, in desperation, we parked in front of a huge government office with a very big NO PARKING sign. Why do they put up vast signs for no parking and no signs for parking? There was however a bay for wheelchair users. As the situation was getting fairly urgent I suggested to my friend that she should leap out of the car and rush into the nearest hotel. I had rehearsed how I would act out a “tummy bug in excruciating detail “ should an Italian policeman challenge me. As I waited, I got out of the passenger side of the car and started to take a photo of a magnificent church nearby. Suddenly there was a screech of brakes. A very well dressed elderly man got half out of his car and was shouting and gesticulating at me. I thought he was shouting at me because he wanted the disabled place and so I went into an Oscar winning performance of stomach cramps. However his shouting continued and I turned round to find a thief crouching down by our car trying to take the contents of my handbag which was In the well of my seat. I rushed to the car as he was closing the door and muttering something about the front tyre. So thank you citizen of Genoa for alerting me to that thieving bastard. Handbag intact we resolved to lock the car in future – even if we were standing right next to it.
Our next stop was to be Padua. We had hoped to go to Verona but with the help of modern technology we realised that thousands of football fans were going to be descending upon it so we skipped it. We had a lot of motoring to do. The Italian motorways are terrific and so are the motorway cafes which are far more chic than ours. They are like posh foodie shops found in places like Marylebone and have wines and herbs and and cheeses wrapped in gingham. Best of all though, there are gelato counters! Mountains of the most delectable and wicked mixtures – £3 buys you two scoops and when I say scoops, the girl piled on more ice cream on the cone than I ever thought possible. It looked like Vesuvius.
I really must mention Italian men. ITALIAN MEN. The very words conjure up all sorts of images. We all know that they are supposed to be the biggest flirts …..well they are! First of all I got chatted up by a very smelly Sixtyish biker as we were waiting to leave the ferry. Then I got winked at by a garbage lorry driver in Genoa and when I smiled – guess what – he blew me a kiss. They don’t do that in Chipping Ongar! Finally the octogenarian male loo attendant in the motorway cafe , told me I was a “Bella signora.“ I was in seventh heaven!!!
I have been trying to think what I could say about Padua that has not already been said by writers far more erudite than myself. The answer is nothing. It is exquisite, I loved it and will go back. Had I seen it when I was much younger I think I would have learned Italian immediately and lived there. The Taming Of the Shrew is set there; there is some controversy as to whether Shakespeare ever visited but as it is one of my favourite plays anyway, my imagination ran riot. One minute you will be gazing at a beautiful balcony and the next moment you are looking through trees to a Padua backwater. It has the oldest botanical garden in the world and has always been a hub for great thinkers.
Since we had spent Saturday night there, and our delicious little Donatello Hotel was opposite the Basilica, I decided to go to church on Sunday morning. Our concierge told us that there were services on the hour from 6am onwards until 11am. At 8 am I slipped in, it was nearly full, and the church is huge. What a surprise… there were nuns a plenty, from all over the world and of course the good people of Padua, plus a few people like me who were passing through. The choir was magnificent and all three priests sang like opera singers. I don’t know why I was so surprised, but I was. There was something so wholesome about seeing a church packed at 8am and just being able to sit there and listen to lovely music, stare at the glistening windows and enjoy the moment.
No peace for the wicked and, after breakfast, we were on our way again towards Trieste Slovenia and Croatia. I had no preconceived idea as to what Croatia would be like but I certainly did not expect the mountains to be so incredibly high or barren. So far – and we are well past Split – we have not seen one animal that you can eat, not a chicken, goat or cow. The supermarkets are well stocked so I can only imagine the animals are kept in. Food is very inexpensive and most wine about £4 a bottle. Whoopee.
As luck would have it I got an email to tell me that two of my dearest gay friends were near by so we managed to hitch up – even finding them lodgings at our very excellent AirBnB. Markarska was our meeting point, a medium size town, with little alleyways and shops and bars and a very fine marina. All along the front are large boats which go on day or weekly trips in and out of the islands. A very pleasant way to pass an evening is to watch the boats come in and out as you sip your wine.
Our gay friends had seen a very pretty captain, so it was that we had to choose his boat for our full day trip. One of our friends, we will call him Cecil for ambiguity, is absolutely outrageous at all times and he makes me hoot with laughter. His chat up lines to our somewhat bemused, very macho Croatian captain left me helpless. We were incredible lucky with the weather and our beautiful two masted schooner left at 9am. It was as calm as a mill pond, we ate fresh grilled fish at lunch time and the sea gulls (who obviously know the drill) flew alongside us waiting for the scraps. Very rough Croatian wine was served to us and also a gut cleaning pure alcohol shot which was instead of coffee – if I had had any tonsils I’m sure it would have taken them out! Our fellow passengers were a complete mixture of Slavonic and European Union. We were the only Brits.
It is not really surprising that the Brits can be so confusing to other countries. The scenario is two gays arrive on a boat with two blondes all well past their sell by date. They, the gays, are dressed as if they were visiting Isadora Duncan in the south of France, that is in white drill and pink cashmere. When it poured with rain in the afternoon and all the other passengers rushed for shelter, they insisted on being very British and continued to sit ramrod straight at their table quaffing their drinks whilst the rain continued to ruin the cashmere. Vive la difference.
Only two more days left before we reach Dubrovnik. There is more much much more to follow including our hunt for a gay club and a visit to a winery down roads which have not been driven upon for 40 years.